According to recent statistics by the 2011 BWA South African Women in Leadership Census, only 4,4% of women currently hold chief executive or managing director positions. Furthermore, only 5,3% of chairperson positions are held by women.
The Gender Equality Bill, which aims at addressing this disparity, will affect all buisnesses, increasing the importance for local companies to interogate gender balances in their corporations.
In order to address these figures, businesses are urged not to rely solely on legislation and quotas, but to provide in-house training and support. This is according to Babita Mathur-Helm, Senior Lecturer of Leadership Diversity Management at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, who says that many local organisations place women in senior management roles in order to meet certain quotas, but that they fail to create structures that facilitate long-term and sustainable growth in these positions.
“A key reason for the apparent lack of women in leadership positions in South Africa is inadequate coaching, leadership and management training, as well as rotation through various leadership and management roles.
“Having many women in an organisation does not necessarily mean that the environment will be conducive to their career development. Furthermore, unless organisations can ensure that women placed in top jobs are effective in their roles, meeting the quota will not automatically translate into bottom line success either. These are serious issues that need to be taken into account when companies consider the implications of the new Gender Equality Bill,” says Mathur-Helm
Mathur-Helm believes that in order to create sustainable gender transformation, companies need to evaluate their current business structure and culture and determine any adaptations that need to be made to support women in top positions. She says that this can be achieved by identifying and openly discussing the existing growth barriers that lead their female workforce towards a glass ceiling.
“Lower confidence and ambition born of historical stereotypes tends to put women off the top jobs and companies should take positive steps to nurture them for leadership roles.
“Women are often unfairly compared to men who have traditionally been the bread winners. Women in South Africa are habitually seen as being secondary to men in terms of intellectual and financial strength. Men need to be less protective and patriarchal towards women. At the same time, women must acquire their status on merit and become role models for other women as they climb the corporate ladders.”